A day of disappointment!

March 30 2017

Image of A day of disappointment!

Picture: Sotheby's

I think there should be a medical term to describe the frustration of underbidding something at auction. Has anyone got any ideas? 'I'm suffering from gavel grief'? 

I suppose feelings of excitement and hope are a key part of the auction process - from the time you see something in the catalogue, determine that you want it, think about whether you can afford it, dare to dream you might get it - but still the sense of disappointment when someone beats you to it can be more than annoying. I'm aware there are more important things to worry about in the world...

On Tuesday Sotheby's held that rare thing these days; a proper, quality house sale, packed full of items that had never before been on the market. One of them wasa small inch-high gold jewel of the Order of the Thistle (above), the pre-eminent Scottish chivalric order. It showed St Andrew on his cross. The family legend (from the Forbes's of Pitsligo) was that this had belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie, and had been given to the 4th Baron Forbes after the Battle of Culloden. The estimate was £400-£600! 

So you can imagine the excitement this caused a Jacobite anorak like me, not least because Bonnie Prince Charlie has actually (though of course indirectly) changed my life*. I also thought the family legend behind the jewel was quite convincing; the story had been first recorded in 1804, and the figure of St Andrew was evidently made in a southern European fashion. James III & VIII also created very few 'Jacobite' knights of the Thistle, so there few other contenders to have owned such a thing. And we know also that Charles owned a gold jewel like this, for we see it in his portrait by Antonio David (below, and zoom in here).

Alas, it was not to be. The jewel made £6,875. In the same sale was a portrait by Ramsay of Clementina Walkinshaw, Charles' mistress and the mother of his daughter, the Duchess of Albany. That made £37,500. 

And talking of mistresses, my hopes were also dashed on a portrait of Van Dyck's mistress, Margaret Lemon (above). Regular readers will know that Van Dyck is another of my slight obsessions. Lemon was supposedly so jealous of his female sitters that she once tried to bite his thumb off, so he could no longer paint. The portrait was a good early copy of Van Dyck's original in the Royal Collection, and made £11,875.

* I live in Edinburgh, after finding this.

On Botticelli's 'Venus & Mars'

March 30 2017

Video: National Gallery

Here's a great talk by Caroline Campbell of the National Gallery on their amazing Venus and Mars by Botticelli. 

'Swindlers all around' (ctd.)

March 30 2017

Image of 'Swindlers all around' (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

I mentioned last month a raid by the Russian security forces at the Hermitage's storage depot (above). Now, The Art Newspaper reports that one of the museum's deputy directors has been placed under house arrest. More here.

Paris court challenges Resale Right practice

March 30 2017

Image of Paris court challenges Resale Right practice

Picture: via Wikipedia

In Paris, a court has ruled that the way in which 'Droit de Suite' is operated must change. The law, known in the UK as the Artist's Resale Right (ARR), gives artists and their estate a small commission each time a work is resold. The French introduced the law in the late 19thCentury, partly in response to the sudden rise in value of Jean-Francois Millet's work (above) after his death. An artist's family or estate can earn this royalty for 70 years. Until now, the fee has always been charged onto the buyer by dealers and auction houses. But the court has ruled that it should be paid instead by the vendor. 

This opens up the prospect of many thousands of sales being re-worked, or the buyers being refunded. For if you bought a picture and paid the fee, but now wish to sell it, you will be obliged as a vendor to pay it again. 

Whether this change will spread to other countries, I don't know. In the UK the dealing and auction community is hopeful that the ARR will no longer be used after Brexit. It was introduced here after an EU directive in 2001. 

Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

March 28 2017

Image of Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

Picture: Guardian

One of Britain's most extraordinary and important stately homes has been bought by a charitable trust for £7m. The house had been on the market for some years, but no private buyers were willing to acquire the property and all its risks and responsibilities. The house was severely structurally damaged, and the park destroyed, by open cast coal mining after the war, at the direction of Labour politician Manny Shinwell. Shinwell declared war on the then owners of the house, the Fitzwilliam family, and directed that coal mining be taken 'up to the back door' (below). 1320,000 tons of coal were removed just from the garden. Such vandalism would not be permitted today.

The Trust will now restore the building, use part of it (the South Wing) for flats, part for events and catering, and open the remainder to the public. The bill for all this is expected to be in the tens of millions, and AHN wishes the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust the best of luck in achieving their laudable aims. (They have already been given a grant of £3.5m by the Nationa Heritage Memorial Fund, so well done them too.) May the house's prosperous future be the finest two fingers to Manny Shinwell that his barbarism deserves. 

Update - a reader sends this fascinating response:

Whilst I completely and utterly agree with you and the deplorable destruction of the grounds and gardens of this amazing estate, and freely admit that Manny Shinwell was an incompetent idiot, who should never have been allowed to be in the position he held,  I would like to offer, perhaps, a comment on his possible motives.

As MP for a Durham constituency he would have been familiar with the truly appalling conditions under which miners laboured in order to enrich the Fitzwilliams and their peers.   As the daughter of  Durham miner I know how safety regulations were ignored and how miners were forced to work in dangerous and lethal conditions.  Members of my father’s immediate family were killed, maimed and disabled by these conditions, but had no alternative but to continue to take what work was available. 

Housing conditions for miners and their families contrasted so greatly with those at Wentworth Woodehouse that they barely seem to exist in the same country.  My father was sent down the pit at fourteen years old.  He had little chance of an education or choice of career.  At sixteen he joined the regular army to escape from the almost certain death which awaited him in the mines, which had already claimed his cousins and older relatives.

The Fitzwilliam family seem to have had no such problems, and I think that Manny Shinwell, though clearly wrong, was in some way trying to redress a balance, to make life for the family as unpleasant as possible, so that they could experience the helplessness which comes with lack of power. 

I do not excuse him, the destruction was wrong.  I am as saddened as any other art historian by the loss of the beautiful grounds and the neglect of the building.  I hope that it can be restored, and that the public who paid for it can enjoy some use from it.  I would certainly love to visit and stay for a holiday if such a thing could be possible in the future.   It would be with some mixed feeling, however, knowing that the privileged lifestyle of the Fitzwilliam family was at the expense of the suffering of my own. 

I was fortunate to have a father who saw the value of education and social justice, and fought for it all his life, so that now I can enjoy the benefits; but I cannot forget how these things were achieved.

Another reader writes:

Not only did Manny Shinwell almost destroy the house with the opencast mining, the quality of the coal was very low grade and not worth extracting. The extreme vindictiveness of the urban labour government of the day not only caused the destruction of hundreds of country houses but also the destruction of country employment centres that forced thousands of the non urban working class into the cities looking for work.

Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' back on display

March 28 2017

Image of Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' back on display

Picture: National Gallery

Following the sad attack with a screwdriver last week, the National Gallery have repaired the damage to Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk', and the picture is back on display.

Connoisseurship; a call to arms

March 27 2017

Image of Connoisseurship; a call to arms

Picture: Apollo

The editor of Apollo, Thomas Marks, has written a fine plea for greater advocacy of, and access to, connoisseurship, in light of the closure of Christie's South Kensington and the loss of some of the specialist positions once available there:

Now is the moment for those who lament the passing of connoisseurship to make the strongest possible case for what is at stake, and to work together to encourage its revival. We have already seen some of the younger Old Masters dealers give their field a shot of razzamatazz. At its best, that glamour acts as a grace note to expertise, taking exceptional paintings and sculptures and making us all feel involved in them.

That is not a model that will work in all fields, but the principle of inspiring or stirring people through an unprecedented intimacy with historical objects has many applications. I urge art dealers to do all they can to work with A-level and university art-history students, welcoming groups to discuss and handle objects; university art-history departments might even offer credit for researching them. And art fairs should set up formal programmes to host junior curators for handling sessions and workshops – after all, every fair has its lulls, and what more profitable way to fill them?

I encourage readers to send in further ideas that might help to revive connoisseurial knowledge. Then let’s turn them into actions.

Of course I entirely agree.

Giant gold coin stolen from Bode Museum

March 27 2017

Image of Giant gold coin stolen from Bode Museum

Picture: Toronto Star

Not an art history story this, but the theft of a giant, 100kg gold coin called the 'Big Maple Leaf' (worth about $4.5m) from the Bode Museum in Germany does make you wonder about their security. 100kg is the weight, apparently, of your average giant panda. It must have taken some effort to move. More here

Update - apparently they used a rope ladder, and a wheelbarrow. More here.

Update II - A coin designer writes:

'Doubtless the stolen gold 'coin' will now have been melted down and recast as small and handy gold bars by the thieves. One hopes the gold will find a better use next time.'

Art fair news

March 27 2017

Image of Art fair news

Picture: Tefaf NY

A roundup of some news from the art fair world: 

First, the ATG wonders if Tefaf should move from Maastricht (to say Amsterdam)? Exhibitors seem to be split on the idea, but it seems to me like a good idea. The best argument in favour of keeping the fair in Maastricht is that, because it's relatively dififcult to get to, and because there's not much else to do when you get there, then the punters really come with a buying attitude. But it seems clear on the evidence of declining sales that such an approach doesn't work these days, and pays scant heed to the need to draw new audiences; if you're a millionaire vaguely interested in Old Masters, you're not likely to want to take three days out of your schedule to get to and visit an art fair. You go to the main auction houses in London or New York instead. For this reason, it was a shrewd move by Tefaf to open up two fairs in New York. For what it's worth, my ideal venue would be an art fair at the Royal Academy in London. Where would AHNers have their ideal art fair, and at what time of year?

Second, the new exhibitor list at Masterpiece (London's leading art and antiques fair) has been unveiled, and reveals a high turnover of exhibitors. I used to enjoy Masterpiece when I worked at Philip Mould. It's a good fair, and certainly creates sales, but appears yet to establish itself as one of the world's leading art fairs. I think this may be because it doesn't focus on one specific type of art or antique. It's fun, from a visitor's point of view, that you can buy a Riva boat there, and a souped up Harley Davidson, as well as a Picasso. But that diversity makes it hard to get a single message across in a media and marketing sense. 

Finally, the vexed problem of vetting at art fairs was highlighted with The Art Newspaper reporting that the entire vetting committee at PAD (Pavilion of Art and Design) Paris and PAD London has resigned. As ever, it seems vetting ahs become a political issue. While I understand some fairs feel the need to have things 'vetted', it often creates a false sense of security from a buyer's point of view. Vetting is, let's face it, rarely done well, or objectively. Caveat Emptor is always the best approach - do your own homework, rather than relying on someone else. 

'Rogues' Gallery'

March 27 2017

Image of 'Rogues' Gallery'

Picture: BG

Here's my review of Philip Hook's new book, 'Rogues' Gallery - A History of Art and its Dealers', for Apollo.

Peeling away a 'Rembrandt'

March 27 2017

Image of Peeling away a 'Rembrandt'

Picture: UVA

At the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, new conservation and analysis that a painting once called 'Rembrandt' appears to have been a forgery. Another painting was discovered beneath the 'Rembrandt', and has now been partially revealed. More here

New Corpus Rubenianum volumes published

March 27 2017

Image of New Corpus Rubenianum volumes published

Picture: Rubenianum

In The Art Newspaper, Prof. Theodore Rabb writes on the publication of two new volumes from the fabulous Rubenianum, the research centre in Antwerp established to catalogue Rubens' output. The volumes cover Rubens' collaborations with Jan Brueghel the Elder & Younger, and also the first of three volumes on Rubens' Mythological subjects.

The full details of the volumes are:

Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XXVII (1). Works in Collaboration: Jan Brueghel I & II, by Christine van Mulders

Harvey Miller/Brepols Publishers, 360pp, €150 (hb)

Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XI (1). Mythological Subjects: Achilles to the Graces, by E. McGrath, G. Martin, F. Healy, B. Schepers, C. Van de Velde and K. De Clippel

Harvey Miller/Brepols Publishers, two vols, 944pp, €275 (hb)

Rabb writes of the Rubenianum:

Few would deny that amidst the mass of publications devoted to the history of art during the past century, one undertaking stands out as the most monumental of them all: Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. With more than 40 books published since the 1970s and another ten or so planned, the enterprise towers over even massive encyclopedias. Nor is the comprehensiveness of the effort inappropriate, for the subject was one of the world’s most prolific artists and also a colossus who has few equals as a creator and shaper of Western art. The Harvey Miller imprint may sponsor multi-volume complete surveys of the work of other figures, such as Cassiano dal Pozzo or Carlo Cesare Malvasia, but none has the standing or the wealth of materials that underlie the treatment of Rubens.

You can read online and for free earlier editions of the Rubenianum here.

Final Howard Hodgkin portrait

March 27 2017

Picture: NPG

I'm late to note the news that the celebrated British artist Howard Hodgkin has died. Is it de trop to point out that he went with almost perfect timing and in some style, for a painter? An exhibition of his portraits is has just opened at the NPG in London to critical acclaim, and includes his last painting, a self-portrait created specifically for the exhibition (below).

More on the self-portrait here, and his last interview here

Australia's 'earliest oil painting'?

March 27 2017

Image of Australia's 'earliest oil painting'?

Picture: Guardian

What may be the earliest oil painting from Australia, at least by a Western artist, has been discovered in the Royal College of Surgeons in London. They're by John Lewin, and are believed to have been painted between 1800 and 1807. Although George Stubb's painting of a kangaroo predates Lewin's painting, the latter's would be the first taken from life. More here

The Mother of Parliaments

March 22 2017

Image of The Mother of Parliaments

Picture: ArtUk/Parliamentary Art Collection

Today's terrorist attack on Parliament must have been terrifying. Four people died and many more were injured, for no reason at all. Our hearts go out to all those affected. When, many years ago, I used to work there I was often struck by how many paintings in the Parliamentary Art Collection depicted the Palace under some form of attack. Many works showed the aftermath of a bombing raid during World War Two (as above, in John Piper's view of the House of Commons in May 1941 during the Blitz), or when much of the old Palace was destroyed by fire in 1834, or during the various events of the Civil War. The story they told, of course, is that Parliament - not just the place itself, but the ideals that made it and the values that it projects - can never be defeated. 

New Tate trustee sought

March 22 2017

Image of New Tate trustee sought

Picture: Tate

Tate needs a new trustee. You've got until 24th March to apply. The ideal post is to be the Tate's liaison trustee with the National Gallery. Then you get the best of both worlds, as well as 'Freedom of the Gallery', the best perk the museum world has to offer.

Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

March 22 2017

Image of Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

Picture: via Artnet

The largest exhibition of Raphael drawings since 1983 will open at the Ashmolean museum on June 1st. More here

Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

March 22 2017

Image of Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

Picture: HKI

Conservators at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge spent almost 600 hours preparing a series of Madonnas for exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. 'Madonnas and Miracles' opens on March 7th. More here

'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

Picture: via Apollo

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell has some good analysis on the decision to close Christie's South Kensington. The recent decline in sale totals has been astonishing:

As Christie’s focused more and more on the potential gain at the top end of the retail market, sales at CSK were run down. Turnover figures fell from £139.4 million in 2012, when it held 126 sales, to just £62.1 million last year when it held only 55 sales. The emphasis now is on building up services in China and Los Angeles, where a new branch is scheduled to open, and investing in the internet, with online only sales replacing the live sales at CSK.

'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Video: NG

The new exhibition at the National Gallery, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, is very interesting, and worth visiting. In the video above, curator Matthias Wivel gives an introduction to the show.

The exhibition is beautifully presented in the upstairs galleries, in such a way that it almost makes you weep for the shows we have endured in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing. Where before, great shows such as Late Rembrandt and Leonardo have been hemmed in by crowds, bad lighting and airless gloom, in this new exhibition we are treated to seeing wonderful works properly lit, and in plenty of space. Let's hope we see more major exhibitions upstairs from now on. The last one I think was Velasquez some years ago. 

I won't review the show here, but in The Sunday Times Waldemar makes some good points on the relative merits of Sebastiano versus Michelangelo. It may not be considered academically appropriate to consider the exhibition as evidence of a competition, but it's nonetheless the inescapable conclusion as a general visitor. As Waldemar says, our appreciation of Sebastiano here is too often compromised by condition issues. 

Much has been made of the recreation, in 3D printed form, of a fresco from the Borgherini Chapel. Jonathan Jones was recently raving about how good it was, and the makers, Factum Arte, have made big claims about how accurate their creations are. I'm afraid I was underwhelmed. 

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